Six months ago, I wrote a column on the aftermath of the draft. I wrote about how the gauntlet was being laid down to SmackDown’s women’s division – and we have seen a star rise in Alexa Bliss. I wrote about how Dolph Ziggler wasn’t even on a list of names I’d noted weren’t on last year’s Battleground. And he was one of the stand outs in WWE for the latter part of 2016 alongside The Miz. Who would’ve seen that coming? I wrote about how the draft was all about the same thing that Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan had been pushing the blue brand to be all about – opportunity.
Now I want to talk about another superstar who has an opportunity. Now I want to talk about a wrestler who could have a career defining couple of months ahead of him. Now I want to talk about a superstar who six months ago was on the shelf through injury, and wasn’t even mentioned at any point in my previous article. Now I want to talk about Luke Harper.
For months on SmackDown, we have been seeing the intriguing story of the Wyatt Family. To start with, I think most of us had assumed that when Randy Orton aligned himself with Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper that he would turn on them fairly quickly, leading to his inevitable match with the patriarch of the family. Survivor Series seemed like the obvious time for that to happen, but instead the unit stayed strong as SmackDown closed the inter-brand battle standing tall.
Well, here we are, four months later. And though the seeds of dissension have clearly been sewn, Randy Orton is still aligned with Bray Wyatt. They were even the SmackDown Tag Team Champions. But Luke Harper – the one man who seems to have been by Bray’s side since the very start of the Wyatt Family’s formation – has been a casualty of this new partnership.
Harper was always suspicious of Orton’s motives, he said as much on SmackDown this week. And though it was presented as miscommunications for the most part, he and Orton always clashed when they were teaming up. And when Bray gave them a chance to resolve their differences, and Harper lost in a one-on-one match to Orton, a Sister Abigail seemed to spell the end for Harper’s time in the Family.
In all honesty, it wasn’t particularly clear at that point. It still isn’t to an extent – we know Harper is set against Orton but we don’t really know exactly where he stands with Bray. We’ve seen the patriarch of the Wyatts lay out Harper and Erick Rowan before and brand it “tough love”, and they could potentially spin Harper’s discus clothesline on Bray this week as an attempt to open his eyes, as Harper’s own brand of tough love.
Now we are all set for another chapter in the book of Orton vs Harper at the Elimination Chamber. And here’s the thing, Orton is dead set to win that match. But, nevertheless, the next few months could be make or break for Luke Harper as a singles competitor.
Impressive showings against Orton in five days time, and whoever he is paired up with after that – be it Bray in the build up to Wrestlemania or someone else – Harper has a chance to show just how good he is. He has been able to hint at his ability back when he was tagging regularly with Rowan, and also more recently in the number one contender’s fatal-4-way match in mid-December against Dolph Ziggler, The Miz and Dean Ambrose. Ziggler won the match, but it was Harper – despite being eliminated second – who stole the show.
Harper is a former Intercontinental Champion, and that was a brief showcase for him. But with SmackDown’s relatively small roster, Harper is someone who can be launched into the main event as the need for fresh matchups starts to show. Through mere association with Randy and Bray he can be elevated in the near future. It all comes down to how he is booked, and how he performs in the next couple of months.
If only on house shows, with John Cena working a reduced schedule, Harper’s elevation would give you a mix of AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, The Miz, Baron Corbin and Luke Harper as potential main eventers. We’ve seen Styles/Ambrose so often over the last six months you would want to keep them apart, and Harper can put on good to great matches with any of the above.
And the thing is, his next steps really aren’t clear. It looks like the Orton/Bray split is coming before Wrestlemania, and Harper could be his own man, or go back to being aligned with Bray depending on the outcome. If Orton ends up having actually deceived Bray all this time, which looks likely, Wyatt could potentially welcome Harper back with open arms, having been proven right all along.
To bring this full circle, it’s definitely an opportunity for Luke Harper. And when I say it could be a make or break opportunity, I’m not kidding. After three and a half years on the main roster, and at the age of 37, if he can’t pull off a singles run now under these circumstances he probably isn’t going to. Time is running out for his individual star to shine bright on the big stage of the WWE. He could very perceivably not get another chance if he doesn’t grab this one with both hands.
For nearly his entire WWE career, Harper has been associated with Bray Wyatt. At times it has protected him. At times, it seems to have held him back. Now he has the chance to stand on his own two feet and prove to the world he can deliver. I have faith that he’s good enough to do exactly that, and if he does, he could just be holding gold again by the end of the year.